mindfulness

I’m taking a mindfulness meditation class as part of my treatment. When I arrived, I instantly felt different – as usual, the only black face in the crowd but also considerably younger than many of the people in the room. I was further singled out because they wouldn’t give me a book and CD that comes with the class because, as a student, I registered for free (course credit) while the rest of the room paid $299 for the 8-week course and they were running out of books.

The class started quite slow, and as someone who is fighting fatigue, I was really annoyed. The teacher is a dentist by training but has been teaching this class for 12+ years and has a pretty good reputation. He started saying a lot of stuff I already know having studied yoga for the past three years, like the difference between pain (physical experience) and suffering (wanting thigs to be any other way than they are), the ability of the mind to take a step back from itself and observe what’s going on in it, the automatic piloting that we do each day to the detriment of truly appreciating what we have now, in the moment. My first reaction was to be like, “yes, yes, I know this already!” and nod my head like those annying people in classes that look and act like they know everything so you wonder why they are there, but then something inside told me to stop being such a jerk and become more open because while I’m thinking I know everything than why am I sitting in this class?

So I became more open. And as soon as I made that resolve, the class became more interesting. We started going around introducing ourselves and telling our story of why we were there. We proceeded using a “popcorn” method, where one person volunteered to start, and then, if something that person says resonates with you, you “pop” and tell your story, going around and around until everyone had spoken. If you know me, you probably would guess that I volunteered to go first because I’m not a shy person and I like to talk, but someone beat me to the punch and started to talk about the issues they were having and that they had to kids and then POP! My turn. I told them that I was a mother to two small kids and a full-time grad student and that I have this chronic pain disease and that I really wanted to be a better parent. Everyone went around, with some version of the same issues – anxiety, stress, insomnia, chronic pain, general unhappiness.

The poem I posted yesterday came after the intros, and while I’d never heard it before, I totally understood what it was saying. Habits are real; we all have them. But some of our habits are making us sick and unhappy. In the first chapter, you fail to even recognize the habit, and when bad things happen, you’re confused and wonder, “why did that happen to me?” You don’t take responsbility for the habit cause yoou didn’t even know it was there. In the seonc chapter, you notice the habit, but you ignore it, and then you continue to do as you always have, blaming everyone but you when the bad things happen.

The third chapter, which is where I am on some things, but further back and further forward on others, is when you recognize the habit, but don’t know how to change what you are doing. The bad consequence occurs, but you take responsibility and work like hell to change the circumstances. Something has clicked. The fourth chapter, you are going down the same road, but you remember the habit, and actively change it, avoiding the bad consequence. By the fifth chapter, you’re not even going down that road anymore, creating a new reality for your life. Now of course, this happens with every habit, of which there are millions, so that on the next road maybe there’s a boulder, or another pothole. But the great thing is that now your mind is open to recognize the habits, and perhaps you progress through the chapters faster than you did the first time.

We ended the class actually doing a mindfull exercise called beginner’s mind. We held two raisins and inspected them using all ofour senses. First we focused on the intricacies of the first raisin, its divets and glossy areas, tiny specks of sugar that you’ve never really seen before. Next we shifted the focus to how the raisin felt between our fingers. Then we lifted the raisin to our nose, smelling it’s small, distinctive smell. Then we raised it to our ears, and listened as we rolled it between our fingers. We then placed the raisin between our lips, and noticed how that felt as opposed to our fingers. Finally, we let it fall into our mouths, exploring it with our tongue and then pressed by our teeth, a little explosion of flavor in our mouth and down our throats. We then repeated the exercise with the second raisin, approaching it with our beginner’s mind, as if we’d never seen, felt, smelle, heard or tasted this object before.

We left with an assignment to follow a meditation CD for 5 days in the next seven. I know better than to commit to all that I can handle instead of what is actually doable, so I made a personal commitment to 15 minutes each night before bed this week. Maybe next week I will up it, maybe lower it. More than anything I am making a commitment to stay more in the moment.

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